Map Warper and Web Map

Map Warper

The Choice of Area

The Girard Estate business district wedged between Passyunk Avenue and Oregon Avenue has changed over the last twenty years. Businesses have come and gone, buildings have come and gone, but the Girard Estate neighborhoods surrounding it seem not to have changed. Recently, the investment company Cedar Realty Trust has shown interest in developing the business area of Girard Estates into a mixed-use area of businesses and housing. Using a 1922 Sanborn insurance map and Map Warper, I wanted to see if there was precedent for the blurring of business and housing in this area during the last century.

Using Map Warper

Map Warper as a tool was easy to use after a few attempts (see failure below), and Sanborn insurance maps made available by Penn State were easily accessible. This particular Sanborn map of the business district in Girard Estates was challenging because the only enduring structural references were two sets of row homes in the northeast corner of the map. Street intersections were used as additional points to rectify the maps. When they were finally in alignment, the maps offered information and posed questions.

The Maps

It should be noted that the maps were created with separate intentions. The Sanborn map was created with insurance in mind. It denotes buildings materials, fireplugs, location of fire and police stations, company names as well as neighborhood names, road names, and park names. The Map Warper map indicates only the names of roads and location of unidentified parks, parking lots, and buildings. To understand what is there, additional resources are necessary.

Historians’ Interest

Switching back and forth between maps, historians would find evidence of stability and change between 1922 and the present. These maps indicate that residential areas that existed in 1922 remain. Row homes between S. Bucknell Street and S. 23rd Street, including the district police station and fire department that served them, are still standing. Additional row homes have been added to their west and new residential streets have been created, but none of the homes from 1922 have vanished. Historians might be pushed to explore what industries created this demand for housing and led to the stability of residential housing in the area. It is possible that the oil industry or the naval yard had an impact. Historians might investigate the changes in transportation, such as the decline of rail use, and its impact on the area. As the city became less reliant on rail lines and those lines were removed, row homes were added in their absence on S. Bonsall Street and S. 23rd Street. Where a rail depot once stood, new houses and apartments were constructed. The rail lines that once dominated the west side gave way to an interstate highway. Historians might also note the changing businesses and consider how they reflected what was happening at the time. It is possible that in 1922, the kilns and warehouses of the Philadelphia Brick Co. and Leuten Brick Co. dominated the business district because newly constructed neighborhoods in an expanding South Philadelphia created demand. When the expansion waned, was it possible that the business district gave way to stores that fed, clothed and served the daily needs of the population?

Historic Precedent?

Comparing 1922 to the present, it became clear that businesses in Girard Estates have changed but a business district remains. Business and housing did not merge in significant ways, but housing did replace areas of business. Therefore, Cedar Realty Trust’s intention to put housing in the business district of Girard Estates has precedent, but the mixture of the two is unique.

 Google My Maps

This map displays the home locations of every Olympic cycling champion of the men’s and women’s road race from 1896 to 2016. At the outset, I was interested in where Olympic champions lived and trained, but once the locations were mapped, social, political and economic questions began to arise and new interests began to take shape.


Although women have been encouraged to ride bicycles since the late 19th century, road cycling for women did not become an Olympic event until 1984. Why? Five nations, the United States, Australia, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands, are home to women’s champions. What does this say about gender issues in these countries and in others? The Netherlands has a disproportionate number of champions. Is this related to the country’s dependence on bicycle commuting?


Colored icons divide champions into three eras: pre-Cold War, Cold War, and post-Cold War. After I mapped the champions until 1936, the majority of Olympic champions hailed from a western Europe. Why? Did France, the Netherlands, or Italy have roads more suitable for biking than the rest of the world? Were these countries paving roads or creating smoother road surfaces? During the Cold War, champions from the Soviet Union and its satellite nation East Germany won three times in twenty-eight years. Was this because of economic prosperity, improved infrastructure, a nation-wide interest in cycling, or did the Soviet government support cycling programs to compete with the West?


Europe was devastated by war from 1939 through1945. How did western European countries recover their cycling dominance so quickly. Where did cycling clubs get their financial support, and was European cycling affected by the Marshall Plan? Australia and South Africa, former member states of the Commonwealth, have champions. Was there a connection between Great Britain’s wealth and culture and Australia and South Africa’s cycling success? Was and is cycling cost prohibitive in countries without champions because they lack bicycle manufacturers?

The Limitations

It was difficult to show changes over time using this map. Colored icons made it possible to indicate general time periods, but when shown all at once it was confusing. I also wanted to separate men’s champions and women’s champions, but was unable. It would be beneficial to remove and add icons at will. This was probably possible, and the fault was probably the map’s creator.

The Benefit

The benefit of this type of map is the questions it conjures. It begs you to make connections between the place and objects or events. This can be done without this type of map, but it would take more time and familiarity with the material for that to happen. Google My Maps makes complicated spreadsheets or pages and pages of written material easier to digest and quickly calls forth questions for consideration.

Data Visualization

The Tunnel in My Mind

In my head, history is a tunnel. I can view this tunnel in several ways. I can travel back through the tunnel; I can travel forward through the tunnel; or I can view the tunnel as a cross-section with the ability to pull back and see long expanses, or I can zoom in and see the tunnel in detail. I can remove a section of the tunnel on one end and compare it to a section on the other. I can fill the tunnel with people, places, things, or events – all at once, one at a time, or somewhere in between. The tunnel is dark during troubled times and light when times are good. Sometimes my tunnel even has sound. The tunnel is a mental map that helps me to make sense of history. As of yet, I have not found a digital version of my mental map, but TimelineJS by the Knight Lab is similar.

The Tool

TimelineJS is a tool that builds traditional left-to-right timelines with slides for visualizations like charts, photographs or videos. It is an effective tool to facilitate mental maps of history. By narrowing down information to its essence and placing it on a timeline, complicated relationships become easier to understand. Knight Lab promotes its timeline as a tool that tells stories “with strong chronological narratives,” so I chose it to trace the evolution of bicycles and highlight the notion that significant changes in bicycles ended in the 19th century. Each slide in the timeline represents an important advancement in bicycle technology. By choosing the Edison film of a cyclist doing tricks on a safety bicycle in 1899 and a modern cyclist on what is essentially an unchanged bicycle doing the many of the same tricks, I was hoping to show that there have been few improvements on the basic structure of the bicycle in 125 years. In creating this timeline, the benefits and limitations of this medium became apparent.

The Benefits

The best attribute of TimelineJS is its visual component. Charts, photographs and videos are prominent, while long-winded written passages are discouraged. Each slide in the timeline is typically split between a visual on one side and a short written passage on the other. This was suited my project, because written descriptions of bicycles spaced out over several chapters, or even paragraphs, are confusing and difficult to imagine. Seeing the evolution of bicycles from one slide to the next provides clarity through visual comparisons, and because the written portions must be brief, only essential information is included. The timeline can be explored forward or back between each chronologically ordered slide. Each slide can be viewed as part of a larger narrative on a broader timeline at the top or bottom of the site. Although, TimelineJS’s features partially recreate the tunnels of my mental map, it is limited.

The Limitations

TimelineJS is constrained by design and available resources. Not unlike a PowerPoint presentation, its slides are fixed in place and are viewed one at a time. Any manipulation of the slides is impossible. The slides are linear, so simultaneous or overlapping events appear to be chronologically arranged before or after each other. Additionally, the experience is limited to sight, as sound is unavailable unless added as a separate audio or video attachment which are difficult to find. To ethically acquire materials, a timeline developer must rely on scarce open-source materials or ask permission from those who control the rights to materials. This proper construction of sites is time-consuming and dependent upon the benevolence of strangers. I must admit, I gave credit to the photographer of the “Rover,” but I did not ask permission, as I assumed it would take too long. If this is not enough, making timelines about events occurring before photographs and video is an additional challenge. Paintings, drawings, letters and contemporary photographs of artifacts are available, but motion and sound are lacking. For my presentation, I was limited to open-source materials from the Library of Congress, Harper’s Weekly or museums. The photograph of the safety bicycle was the only one available from the Library of Congress, and as a result, the bicycle and the woman who it belongs to are far away and difficult to see. Luckily, the photograph fit the narrative as this was the first bicycle advertised to men and women. Citation of the YouTube videos are completely lacking.

Back to the Tunnel

Sometimes the tunnel of history in my mind is empty for miles. No, seriously empty. The section of tunnel between 1700 and 1730 is frighteningly deserted. I think William Penn is in there somewhere, but I am not really sure. It would be helpful if more timelines existed online to help me fill in those areas. Some day a digital timeline that can be manipulated and pulled apart will be made to help people make sense of history, but for now, and despite its shortcomings, TimelineJS and tools like it will do.

February 14, 2018

Digital Project Proposal


Digital Tool

The 1918 influenza pandemic exists in the collective memory as a disconnected event in some distant black and white past that is over and bears no resemblance to modern life. My proposal for the digital project is to connect printed history of the 1918 influenza pandemic to the present through modern maps, photography/Google Earth, and interviews akin to podcasts to present historic and current facts about the flu. On the first page of an Omeka web site, a summary of the 1918 influenza pandemic in Philadelphia will be given, and a map focused on South Philadelphia will indicate where flu victims lived. Each marker will open up to a separate page that includes a current image of the location, a newspaper article/obituary about the victim, a readable news article that gives other interesting news from the day the person died, and a link to a short “man-on-the-street” dialogue about the pandemic, the effects of the 1918 influenza, and questions about their flu shot status. Several aspects of this site will echo the design of the web site, Histories of the National Mall (

Introducing History and Health Concepts

Some elements of the site will educate the public about the 1918 influenza pandemic, but all elements will serve a warning about the dangers of the flu, be they past or present. Contemporary pictures of the homes where victims lived remind them that the past is not so distant, that they walk the same streets as those who died, and that past might be prologue. The obituaries and articles about the dead are relatable and give name to the victims who shared the names of our co-workers, friends, and loved-ones. Newspaper articles unrelated to the flu, are a reminder that tragic events happened and will happen while life goes on.  The person-on-the-street interview will provide information about the 1918 influenza pandemic, recent flu history, and practical advice and awareness about the importance of flu shots.

The Audience

The project’s audience will be anyone interested in the history of Philadelphia, people who live in South Philadelphia, and anyone in need of a flu shot. Tourists might find the general history of the pandemic interesting and sites within tourist areas worth visiting. South Philadelphia schools might use the site to teach their students about the pandemic and use the history of victims in their neighborhoods as a personal connection to history. Hopefully, in keeping with the goals of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the site will enlighten people about the importance of getting a flu shot and where to get it.


Articles from archived newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer or the Philadelphia Tribune, and will be the primary resource for this project. Additional information about Philadelphia deaths from the Spanish Influenza might be found in hospital records. The data taken from the Mutter Museum scrap book and research by students in Dr. Hilary Lowe’s class is a good place to start, but this project will require more places and names for it to be of interest to the general public.